Consumers Want Affordable Meds and Clear Pricing, Are Healthcare Brands Listening?

Social media data helps healthcare brands understand changing consumer preferences

One of the largest health insurance companies in the US has finally tuned into the consumer anthem and it begins with —  ‘reduce prices and cut the red tape’.
A landmark deal struck between the country’s largest for-profit healthcare company, Anthem, and one of the biggest pharmacy benefit manager and drugstore chain, CVS, promises to give consumers what they have always wanted: lower prices on prescription drugs and more transparency in insurance processing.
Anthem’s CEO Joseph R. Swedish said that the new company called IngenioRx “will resolve consumer frustration” by allowing the company to better control the “escalating costs of prescription drugs.”
Clearly, Anthem and CVS are betting big that consumers are fed up with the status quo of subscription medication: Are they right? 

To be sure, the U.S. healthcare industry finds itself at crossroads as insurance costs soar, the population ages, and chronic conditions become more common. The situation does not seem to be getting better for consumers who are increasingly disenchanted with the healthcare system in the country and seek alternative modes of care.

As consumers flock to social media to voice their woes about unaffordable drug prices, poor quality of care, and the opaque nature of insurance processing, we can learn a lot about consumers’ crucial pain points around the healthcare process and their demands for change.

In this post we analyze why the Anthem-CVS deal might be well-timed for an industry that’s at the center of political debate by identifying specific consumer trends highlighted in social media data about:

  • Concerns over high drug prices
  • The cynicism towards prescription drugs
  • Alternative treatment options

Cut costs, not care

The US spends twice as much on healthcare per-capita as other developed countries. Americans spend an average of $9,024 on healthcare annually without guarantees of a better outcome. Rampant overprescription by doctors makes the situation worse. In 2015, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that one in ten Americans skip their medication because they cannot afford it.

On social media, the conversation about the cost of prescription drugs soared from 2010, with a sharp peak in 2012.

As conversation surged, it became apparent that a critical component of the healthcare policy discussion on social media is cost. Most people agree that the objective of healthcare policy is to make treatment as affordable for as many people as possible —  opening/using a medical savings account makes up 31 percent of the overall healthcare costs discussion. People also discuss preparing for medical bills by dedicating a portion of their savings to medical expenses. Nearly a quarter of consumers discuss being unable to afford the cost of healthcare.

 

Anthem decided to take its business away from Express Scripts, claiming that it was overcharged. Under the new contract with CVS, beginning 2020, the company estimates its savings to net $4 billion, bulk of which it said would flow to customers in the form of lower drug costs, correcting for the opacity created by the pharmacy benefits manager-drug manufacturer nexus.

Magic pill? No, thank you

In the US, prescription drugs have been the the most standard way to receive care but when consumers weigh its soaring costs against its effectiveness, they are left desiring  more.

Oftentimes consumers think the negative side effects are not worth the alleged benefits.

It doesn’t help that the health care system in the country lacks a robust insurance framework that provides protective benefits and that there is a government-protected “monopoly” rights for drug manufacturers. Unlike anywhere else in the world, pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. set their own prices.

Unsurprisingly, this has left consumers feeling disenchanted with the complexities of the system, resulting in high negative sentiment towards prescription drugs in general.

When we compared different treatment options on social, we found that prescription drugs elicited the most negative sentiment, with 55 percent negative and only 13 percent positive sentiment. The negativity was driven by number of factors like erroneous diagnoses, strange side effects, or not enough value for the cost.

 

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I&#39;m angry that people have to beg on social media to get their medical bills paid. You can CREATE A JUST AND COMPASSIONATE SYSTEM.</p>&mdash; Jesus Christ (@JesusOfNaz316) <a href=”https://twitter.com/JesusOfNaz316/status/801647569210318849?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>November 24, 2016</a></blockquote>

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Say no to drugs, yes to alternatives

As we established, consumers are embittered with most aspects of the healthcare system — right from diagnosis, to types of treatment, and quality of care and costs.

As patients and consumers feel trapped and helpless, they tend to veer towards alternatives modes of treatment to explore the benefits of yoga, exercise, diet etc. And, naturally, they seek the collective intelligence of social media first.

From 2010 to 2016, discussions about treatment preferences and methods were quite varied. In 2010, diet and natural remedies were equally popular, with 32 percent share of voice. Drugs/prescriptions had 19 percent share of voice, while exercise had 13 percent share of voice. Cannabis and meditation/yoga still had a low share of voice.

As time progressed, the outlook towards cannabis and meditation/yoga started to change — the conversation grew to 3 percent and 18 percent share of voice, respectively.

What caused this change in mindset? Social data points to aversion towards drugs.

Natural remedies arose as an alternative out of people’s frustration with taking prescription drugs. As people become more wary about how effective or safe drugs/prescriptions are, they return to more natural forms of care that they deem less destructive. As a result, discussion about natural remedies including acupuncture, massage therapy, and ingesting herbs grew popular.

As always, looking at the audience contributing to the conversation tells a more insightful story.

Of all the different ways to treat health conditions, prescription drugs received the highest proportion of discussion from those who are 35 and above (60%) but drew the lowest conversation levels from a younger population, with only 26 percent of the conversation coming from those below 25. For meditation/yoga,the population was slightly younger. 39 percent of the conversation came from those below 25.

This poses a larger question: Are pharma companies alienating a big group of present and potential consumers? A study conducted in 2014 showed that 26% of millennials believed that health insurance companies were responsible for failings of the healthcare system. And as they get more jaded, they become willing and early adopters of alternative treatments.

Conclusion

It’s clear more than ever that consumers displeased with the state of affairs of healthcare in the US. They demand better quality of care that is affordable without the bureaucracy of the insurance process. While it will take more than one company or policy to shake up the system, listening to consumer concerns on social platforms tells us that the time for change is here. And pharmaceutical companies can take notice of consumers are anxious  and concerned about. Analyzing these conversations can bring clarity to healthcare providers who want to know what patients really think and consequently, provide better tailored care.

For more healthcare insights, download the full report here.

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